Frank Burns, chief executive of Wirral Hospital NHS Trust in Merseyside and a pioneer of healthcare IT in the UK, has announced that he will retire this summer.

In 1997, Burns was seconded by the Department of Health for 15 months as head of information management and technology at the NHS Executive with a remit to devise a new information strategy for the NHS.

Burns duly produced the 1998 NHS information strategy, Information for Health, which proposed a six level approach to implementing electronic patient records.

During his 16 year tenure as chief executive, the Wirral Hospital NHS Trust has won numerous awards for achievements in health IT in areas such as hospital e-prescribing and electronic scheduling for complex radiotherapy treatment.

Though Wirral blazed a trail, few other trusts managed to follow and targets for achieving the electronic patient record levels proposed in the strategy were missed badly.

In 2002, the Department of Health centralised the strategic management of electronic patient records, e-booking and the electronic transfer of prescriptions and created the NHS National Programme for IT.

Burns remains, however, one of the longest serving and well-respected chief executives in the NHS. In recognition of his services to healthcare, he was awarded a CBE.

Burns said: “After 40 demanding years in NHS management, it is time to think about slowing down a little. Wirral Hospital’s transition to NHS foundation trust status provides a natural opportunity for me to step aside for a successor.”

He joined the NHS in 1966 as an administrative trainee at Hope Hospital, Salford. Eight years later, at the age of 23, he returned to Hope Hospital as chief administrator, making him the youngest hospital manager in the country at the time.

Burns was appointed as general manager of Arrowe Park Hospital in 1989 and when Wirral Hospital NHS Trust was created two years later, he became chief executive. The trust has since gone on to become one of the most successful in the country, consistently achieving the maximum three stars in the NHS performance ratings.

Burns said: “I have had a great career in the NHS and have spent most of it running hospitals. If I had my time again I’d do it again. I can’t think of a more fulfilling or interesting management role than overseeing a large hospital.”

“The last 16 years have been the best of my career. I have been fortunate to work alongside thousands of dedicated staff at Wirral Hospital and immensely proud of what we have achieved together.”

For the future, Burns, who is 56, is only saying that he does not plan to stop working completely and is keeping his options open for the moment.

The chief executive’s post will be advertised soon, with a successor likely to start work in July, a month after the trust’s application for NHS foundation trust status is submitted.